ST. PETERSBURG, Mar. 3 (Xinhua) -- As Russian President Vladimir Putin moves to extend Russia's military presence in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula amid civil unrest in the region, more than 3,500 Russian naval infantry and coastal forces from the Western and Central Military Districts took part in unscheduled tactical exercises Monday in the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.
Captain Vladimir Matveev, spokesperson for Russia's Baltic Fleet, confirmed that the exercises, involving more than 450 military units, would prepare soldiers for "offensive and defensive combat in a context of enemy signal jamming, air strikes and artillery fire."
Matveev also stressed that the exercises were being conducted in a setting "as close as possible to that of actual combat," with deployment of live weaponry and the full range of available military vehicles and communications technology. The military units will "hone their skills with standard weapons and military equipment and test their battlefield mobility," Matveev said.
The large-scale exercises come as Russia intensifies its diplomatic and military involvement in the ongoing civil conflict in neighboring Ukraine. While Western powers have threatened Russia with a range of economic and diplomatic sanctions including suspension from membership of the G8 bloc, if it continues with its current posture, Russia has defended its right to secure its own borders and to protect the predominantly Russian-speaking and ethnically Russian populations of eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula.